Megan Rapinoe is no stranger to the limelight. The former Chicago Red Stars player (until the WPS announced it’s suspension) moved on to become one of the key players from last year’s Women’s World Cup. This year, as she prepares for the Olympics in London, steps into a different light; the rainbow colored one. That’s right, folks. As many of her adoring LGBTQ soccer fans have suspected, Megan Rapinoe is a Lesbian.
While it’s not a huge surprise to most of us who have followed her, it is a ginormous win for gay athletes everywhere. Hiding is something that I’ve shook my fist against, with my personal list of players I know are confirmed but closeted lesbians (sorry, I’m not publishing that publicly – I don’t believe in outing people until they are ready). Women’s soccer, in particular, has been hiding in the closet for a long time. Pino’s right on this – she holds great influence over women’s soccer in general. She owes it to her followers and fans.
In speaking to Out magazine, she stated: “To be honest I’ve been thinking about it for a while, trying to find a time that works, now leading up to the Olympics, people want to get personal stories. Our team in general is in a position where people look up to us and kids look up to us. I embrace that and I think I have a huge LGBT following. I think it’s pretty cool, the opportunity that I have, especially in sports. There’s really not that many out athletes. It’s important to be out and to live my life that way.”
Personally speaking, this is one of the many reasons that I find it super important to embrace our labels and to publicly admit to who we are. As a kid growing up, I found it rather hard to fit in with the uber girly-girl soccer stereotype. In case you are unaware (or perhaps you were just super lucky and had an ultra lea team), the soccer girls I’m referring to wear makeup while they play. YES, MAKEUP. To fellow women’s soccer fans, I’m calling out Ali Kreiger. While I have a major crush on you, Kreigs, do you really need to apply the mascara before every game? I’m fairly sure you’d be just as gorgeous without it.
Sorry. While thinking of Ali I always digress.
When I graduated high school, I took on that GI Jane/Sinead O’Connor buzzed head look. Cut me some slack – I was 18 and a brand-new gay. Someone proposed the idea (or did I listen to too many Ani DiFranco songs?), so I buzzed my locks. Imagine the looks on those gals faces when I showed up for training camp at college. All this when Mia Hamm was at her prime and when Brandi Chastain whipped off her shirt. If there was an Athlesbian on the team, they were buried deep in the recesses of the high-heals and dresses of the US Women’s Soccer closet.
I remember on a particularly bad day, when I was feeling like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, I gave myself a mental pep talk. ‘Tina’, I said to myself, ‘Never forget. You were a soccer player long before you were a lesbian. You’re made for this. You’re born for this. Get your head into the game and lets play.’
Maybe it’s too many movies like ‘A League of Their Own’, but I always felt like a team was supposed to be a second family. I thought once I left high school that I’d finally find that family in my college team. Sadly, that feeling never came. When I tore my ACL in my sophomore year, it was the final thing that wiped out my identity as a soccer player. I didn’t go back after that. In fact, I thought I’d never play again. Although I could blame it on my knee (and, well, sometimes I still do), there was a deeper part of me that was just sick of the struggle. It’s not as though anyone ever made fun of me or bullied me. There was just a sense that it made people uncomfortable. I just wasn’t happy playing soccer any more. Isn’t that what a game is supposed to be about? Being happy while playing it?
Later, I moved to Chicago. It was around that time that there was a full-on recruiting effort to popularize the Gay Games, since it was being hosted here. Instantly I loved the idea of it. It would be the first time that, beyond softball, I’d get to play with women who were out and happy about it. So, I immediately signed up for hockey. It wasn’t until my girlfriend at the time persuaded me – close to the deadline – that I decided to play soccer. It was the first time since my sophomore year. At that time, it had felt like AGES since I had played.
This might go without saying, but it was at the Gay Games that I felt my first sense of ‘team’ since my pre-teen years. I felt a real sense of pride – both gay pride and athletic pride. For me, it was such an amazing affirming experience that I went to both the Out Games (in ’09) and back to the Gay Games (in ’10).
While I would never want to give up my experience at the Gay Games & Out Games, I wonder what life would have been like if I were just coming out now. What if I would have had someone like Rapinoe, a world-class women’s soccer player, to say to the world, “i’m gay and happy about it.”
Even though I may never meet you in person, Megan (seriously I’m still waiting for you to return my tweets), I really want to thank you. It means a lot to me, as I’m sure it does to a lot of other people as well.
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A transplant from the snow and mountains of Upstate NY (why, yes, there IS an entire state above NYC!), Tina moved to Chicago in 2005. Since then, she’s taken full advantage of Chicago’s sports scene, participating in rugby, volleyball, and hockey – just to name a few. Her first love, however, is soccer. She's proud to have participated in both the 2006 and 2010 Gay Games as well as the 2009 Out Games. In addition to sports, Tina enjoys traveling (she tries to cross the atlantic at least once a year). Tina is a ‘Jackie of all trades’, so prepare for the unexpected!